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"The Schonenberg 1722" (page2 of 2)

As they had expected, the Schonenberg   had broken up and there was no evidence of what had gone wrong. Some weeks later, in January, 1723, the Governor, still dissatisfied, sent a second group of investigators to the wreck, this time under a Captain Albertus, but now there was nothing left but the hulk, which had been mysteriously burnt to the water's edge.


For several months the plotters at Vergelegen kept quiet and carefully avoided going near the orchard. Only Klopper knew the exact spot where the treasure lay, and he was often enveloped in deep gloom. During March, 1723, however, it was felt they must do something with their loot. Captain van Soest was still at the Cape, though hoping to return shortly to Rotterdam, whence he came.


One evening they all met under the camphor trees near the homestead. Paulus August, the book-keeper, was in high spirits. It was now only a question of taking up the treasure and dividing it. One thing seemed strange - the heavy silence surrounding Klopper. Finally van Soest burst out: "Hendrik, what ails thee, man? Hast thou seen a ghost, or do thy riches weigh so heavily on thee that thou canst not spare a word?"

Still Klopper said no word and stared hard past the camphor trees at the bushes which hid the grisly secret. Then Paulus August said: "This is poor cheer to give us after a hard day's trek."

Van Soest sat up and put his hand on the farmer's shoulder. Still he gave no reply. The others noticed that his legs seemed weak. His knees shook as he rose and slowly began to stumble towards the bushes. By now everyone was silent. They saw Klopper walk to the place where he had killed the slaves. A moment later there was a shot and as they rushed up, they saw him lying dead.


How had he died? A slave was seen running out of Vergelegen homestead, but there was no sign of a wound. The killer must be among the bushes, and he should have been easily recognisable against the sand-hills. For hours they searched, but found no one. All through the night Paulus August and the slaves kept watch. Finally they buried Klopper's body and sent to Cape Town to report what had happened.


Where was the treasure? They were within a few yards of it and at first searched casually. Presently they realised they could not locate the spot and that the only man who knew was dead. The officials from the Castle sent to arrest them, found them still at work with picks and shovels, oblivious of their personal safety.


Governor de Chavonnes was merciless. They were put on trial at the Castle and the sentences were of the barbarity one expected in the early eighteenth century. Captain van Soest was first broken on the wheel and then strangled; Van der Heiden and Malan were deported in chains to Batavia. There are no records to tell us what became of Paulus August, but probably he was given the same treatment as the Captain.


The search for the treasure continued, yet although the garden and grounds of Vergelegen were ransacked, all that was ever recovered was a heavy chest, and that was empty. After nearly 250 years, the fate of the treasure remains unsolved."


In another account of this story written by Lawrence G. Green, it was said that the Schonenberg   was carrying gold, jewels and bars of silver. Other cargo consisted of pepper, eastern timber, bales of silk and exquisitely transportable boxes of gold and precious stones, silver and ornaments.


In this report it seems as if the conspirators buried most of the valuables at Vergelegen and handed over the rest to Governor de Chavonnes to allay suspicion.


When the Governor became suspicious after learning that seaman had been spending gold and silver in the taverns, he sent Valk, the Harbour Master, and Jan de la Fonteine, senior merchant, to the wreck to see whether anything more could be salved. They found only the bones of the Schonenberg  , for she had been set on fire and burnt down to the waterline. So the Governor ordered the arrest of Captain van Soest and his accomplices. According to one authority, the crime preyed on the mind of Hendrik Klopper, who committed suicide. Captain van Soest was sentenced to death and broken on the wheel. Van der Heyden and Malan were deported in chains to Batavia. They declared that only Klopper knew where the treasure had been buried. As they remained unshaken in this statement after being tortured, the Governor reluctantly accepted their word and ordered them to be deported to Batavia in chains. The missing treasure of the Schonenberg   remained in its hiding place on Vergelegen.


No doubt the farm was searched again and again. In a report of the Cape Argus of October, 1859, the writer stated that a ship's bell, engraved with the name Schonenberg   and a copper kettle had been found near the homestead by labourers digging up roots of old trees. The bell was to be seen on the farm of Mr. P. van der Byl at Eerste River. According to the reporter, the farmer who buried the treasure, had been assisted by a servant named Nicolaas Niemaan and a slave boy. The slave boy had been shot. Niemaan had run away, crossed the colonial frontier and lived among the blacks for many years. Before he died Niemaan had met a white man named Verley and told him that the treasure had been buried in the orchard behind the Vergelegen homestead.


Thus the search in 1859 recorded in the Cape Argus was based on Verley's information. The reporter saw a hole fifteen feet deep, but nothing had been found.


The treasure remains a mystery and perhaps is still there to be found?


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Charles Shapiro cc T/A "Aqua Exploration"


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